Can Your Writing Make Your Rich? How Do You Pay the Rent Until It Does?

Let’s be honest. We writers all cherish the dream, fueled by movies, TV shows and books, that all we need to do is publish a book and we’ll be rich. We can pay off our debts, buy whatever we always wanted, and never have to worry about money again.

Well, it does happen. Ask Stephen King or E.L. James, the Fifty Shades of Grey lady. Ask Oregon writer Cheryl Strayed, who wrote Wild, now a movie with Academy Award nominations. But none of them hit the big-time overnight. They had to work to pay the rent, and they’re still working hard to keep the magic going. Most writers, even those with many publications, don’t make a fortune; they just hope to make more than they spend.

Writing is a little like gold mining. A few strike it rich, but they have to dig for a long time before they find the gold. Most of us aren’t that lucky. We need another source of income. That’s why so many writers are teachers. That’s one of the reasons I keep my job as a church musician. We can cite many famous writers who had full-time jobs doing something else.

Recently there’s been a lot of discussion online about the advantages of having a working spouse to support your writing. It is a huge advantage. Shortly after my husband proposed, I threw my arms around him and said, “Now I can freelance!” He kind of said, “Well, uh, wait a minute here, you still need to work.” But eventually I did quit my newspaper job and become a full-time writer. In later years, I dabbled in teaching and told my students I was lucky to have a “sugar daddy” to pay the bills. Since he died, I have continued to be lucky to receive part of his pension and social security. It’s not enough to live on, but it allows me to spend my mornings writing.

It would also be helpful to have a trust fund, come from a wealthy family, or find someone who wants to sponsor you and let you write whatever you want. (If you have that, what are you doing here? Go write.)

It’s hard to find time and energy to write when you have a job and maybe a family, too. But it’s not all bad. I find I get more writing done when my time is limited. It forces me to get to work. Jobs give you contacts in the outside world, experiences to write about, steady pay, and benefits. The ideal job will not use up your writing energy. I often think house painting would be a good gig for a creative writer. While you’re putting the paint on the walls, your mind could be working on stories.

New writers often think they’ll be able to quit their jobs in a month or two. I hate to tell them it’s not likely. But it is possible. And just like the lottery, you can’t win if you don’t play. So write that bestseller. But meanwhile, don’t quit your day job. And if you have a rich uncle or the chance to marry someone who can support your writing, consider yourself blessed.

Following are links to some articles on the subject that you might find interesting.

“The Struggle Is Real; Or, False Author Narratives”

“Sponsored” by my husband: Why it’s a problem that writers never talk about where their money comes from

 “A Word From My Sponsor”

Now go write.


Moving from freelance to staff writer

The freelance life is difficult, what with sporadic income, disorganized editors and the need to be perpetually self-disciplined. Perhaps you’re thinking about getting a staff job on a magazine or newspaper.

There are certainly advantages to having a job. High on the list are steady income and benefits. Also, you can concentrate on writing instead of marketing, you have deadlines to keep you going, and you become part of a work family. You can learn valuable skills without paying for classes or training programs. A job can also help you make connections that will help in the future if/when you return to freelancing.

On the negative side, staff writing jobs can suck up all your time so that you have nothing left for the fiction, poetry or creative nonfiction that makes you happy. You can do both, but it’s hard. You also might have to relocate to find a good job. Where I live, in a small town on the Oregon coast, the only staff option is the local newspaper, which pays barely above minimum wage. I tried it and went back to freelancing. Are you able to transfer your life to another city or another state?

Balancing jobs and writing is a puzzle I’ve been trying to solve for oh, about 40 years now. I spent many years working as a staff writer and editor at various newspapers and magazines, but I always wanted to freelance. When I was freelancing, I often yearned for the security of a job. The grass is always greener on the other side, right?

But if you have to earn a living from your writing and you haven’t yet made it into the national publications that pay $1 a word or more, you might not have a choice. You need a job.

It’s honestly not a good time for magazines or newspapers. Both have cut pages and staff drastically in recent years. If you study the bylines, you may find they use more freelancers than staff writers. Odds are better in public relations, corporate writing or advertising. But you can find a job if you really want to.

It helps to have a degree in journalism, English or a specialty in something like science, business, or technology. It helps to have strong computer skills. These days, staff writers often find themselves designing pages, writing for web sites, or blogging. You’re also going to need some clips and people willing to give you good references.

Where do you look? Some online outfits that promise to find you writing jobs charge a fee and never find you anything that’s suitable. If it sounds fishy or an ultra-traditional person like my dad wouldn’t approve, it’s probably not a real job. Good resources for jobs include: www.journalismjobs.com, www.mediabistro.com, and your state newspaper association—search for _________ Newspaper Publishers Association. For magazines, try www.foliomag.com, where you can read industry news and post your resume. Also try the Public Relations Society of America at www.prsa.org, which posts jobs and resumes. In addition, you can find some job listings at www.fundsforwriters.com, www.writing-world.com, and other writing sites.

The best resource may be your telephone book. Look under publishers and see what’s listed. Then find copies of their publications to determine whether you’d want to work for them and contact the office to find out if they’re hiring. If they don’t have an opening right now, ask if they’re open to freelance work. Being a reliable freelancer is often a good first step into a full- or part-time job.

Good luck in your search.